Italian living legend Edoardo Bennato has never been to Vancouver in a career that spans an incredible half-century, but like a true professional he understands how to win over an audience.
Reached in Italy, the Naples-born 71-year-old says the closest he’s ever gotten to Canada’s West Coast is Toronto, where he held concerts in both 1990 and 2010. That—along with an undying love for a certain Canuck icon—has been enough to make him fall for a country halfway around the world from him.
“I love Canada for what it represents: the green lung of North America, not only for its pristine wildlife, but for the welcoming spirit of the Canadian people as well,” he says. “Moreover, one of my favourite songwriters is Canadian Neil Young.”
That Bennato admires the man known as Shakey makes sense, the two having carved out careers with more than a few similarities. The big ones are of course their longevity and their determination to play by no one’s rules but their own. Like Young, Bennato got his start in the ’60s, obsessed with early rock ’n’ roll while growing up in Naples, which, postwar, was home to the biggest U.S. naval base in the country.
“I was soon exposed to the American rock ’n’ roll music broadcast by the U.S. armed forces radio network, whose music was totally different from the Italian radio: Elvis, the Platters, Gene Vincent, Sinatra, Paul Anka, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and sometimes B.B. King or Bo Diddley. That’s how I started playing rock ’n’ roll.”
Like artists ranging from Young to the Beatles, Bennato realized early on that he had little interest in making the same record over and over again. That was clear right from the beginning, his 1973 debut Non Farti Cadere le Braccia moving easily from raw R&B (“Mm”) to easygoing country (“Campi Flegrei”) to orchestral pop (“Detta Tra Noi”). In the years that followed, Bennato was throwing himself into everything from politically minded concept albums (the allegorical, Pinocchio-inspired Burattino Senza Fili) to dalliances with the classical world (Quartetto d’Archi).
“I started out with rock ’n’ roll and blues, which is my greatest inspiration—I was even lucky enough to play with both B.B. King and Bo Diddley,” he relates. “I later started exploring other genres, especially opera music. I studied Rossini thoroughly and discovered his genius and modernity. Had Rossini been born later, he would have definitely been the sixth Rolling Stone. Jamaican reggae is another genre that inspired me and I have often used its musical structure. All of this has given me the basic tools to convey my thought through my music and my lyrics.”
Those lyrics have, in true rock ’n’ roll rebel fashion, poked fun at authority figures from all walks of life, from the holiest of the holy to Italy’s famously colourful politicians.
“I find humour and irony the best means to challenge the establishment and to reveal the hidden games of those in power,” he says. “My favourite targets have been the Pope and Italian presidents—I took great risks in talking about the ‘untouchables’. But they were not the only ones: I have used irony above all with myself.”
On that latter front, he cites his 1978 single “Rock ’n’ Roll Hero”, which finds him winkingly delivering such lines as “You’re good, you’re honest, you’re modest, you’re kind” and “You have no hang-ups, commit no sins.”
“I have often disguised my criticism,” he adds, “using the characters of tales such as Pinocchio, Peter Pan, and the Pied Piper.”
Now in his 70s, Bennato has every reason to be content with reflecting on a past that’s seen him not only be an enduring superstar at home, but also headline landmarks like New York’s Apollo Theater on this side of the pond. Major career highlights have included packing Naples’s 60,000-seat San Paolo stadium. Instead, he remains determined to keep busy, with projects on the go including teaming up with American folk vet Jono Manson and reworking his Peter Pan–inspired 1980 album Sono Solo Canzonette for English-speaking audiences, with the hope it might one day make a musical.
And, even more importantly, there’s an upcoming first visit to the West Coast, where he’ll be taking the stage at Grandview Park as one of the featured stars at this year’s Italian Day. He probably doesn’t have to, but that doesn’t stop him from taking a first step to connecting with Lotusland music fans he’s about to meet up close.
“I can’t wait to be in Vancouver,” he enthuses. “An Italian rock-and-blues fest, not just for Italians.”
Edoardo Bennato plays the Grandview Park Stage at 4:45 p.m. on Sunday (June 10) as part of Italian Day.More